Monash contributor

Reading good science writing is not just pleasurable and informative: it’s also necessary if we want to live engaged and examined lives in today’s hyper-technological, climate-changing world. The Best Australian Science Writing 2019 offers readers all these things – the delight in good writing, the satisfaction of learning, and the sobering reckoning with our society’s environmental impact and lack of political engagement with science. Yet it’s not afraid to challenge science itself on occasion – showing ‘its flaws as well as its finer moments’, as editor Bianca Nogrady puts it.

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The import of this book is best summed up by pinching one of its section headings: ‘another Europe is possible’. In this other Europe, this better one, the ‘democratic deficit’ that has bedevilled the European project from the outset has finally found a satisfactory resolution. A dream? Not at all. For the authors of this book, it is a ‘realistic utopia’, fully achievable if the right measures are taken. All that is needed is an agreement on a treaty and the dismantling of a Trojan Horse. 

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'Putting the terror in extraterritoriality' by Christina Twomey

Christina Twomey
Friday, 22 November 2019

I am from a very large island, a continent in fact. Yet smaller islands have meant more to me – trips to Bribie Island with my grandmother to drink shandies and eat crab sandwiches; two years living in an expatriate Australian community on the Malaysian island of Penang; an object lesson in the power of oceans while visiting American Samoa, when my then boyfriend and I were carried by the tide beyond the coral reef we were exploring with snorkels. In my part of the world, small islands often connote tourism, but they also serve other objects. There is a vanishing point where paradise becomes isolation, where utility meets strategy and where purpose matters more than people.

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The recent death of Les Murray can be likened in its significance to the passing of Victor Hugo, after which, as Stéphane Mallarmé famously wrote, poetry ‘could fly off, freely scattering its numberless and irreducible elements’. Murray’s subsumption of the Australian nationalist tradition in poetry, including The Bulletin schools of both the 1890s (A.G. Stephens) and 1940s (Douglas Stewart), has delineated an influential pathway in our literature for more than fifty years. Yet the death in 2017 of the American poet John Ashbery might be viewed as equivalent in its effect, given the impact of his work on several generations of local poets, which has in many respects constituted a counter-stream to Murray’s often narrowly defined nationalism. Ashbery’s voice has been infectiously dominant in English-language poetries over several decades, in a manner similar to T.S. Eliot’s impression on poets of the earlier twentieth century. Critic Susan Schultz, the publisher of this volume, has charted the dynamics of its transcultural influence in her aptly titled collection, The Tribe of John (1995)

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In 1942, Elio Vittorini managed to circumvent the Fascist censors and publish Americana, a landmark anthology of thirty-three American authors. The aim of this massive project – over a thousand pages with translations into Italian carried out by ten significant literary figures of the time, including Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, and Nobel Laureate poet Eugenio Montale – was to introduce iconic American voices to Italian readers. In assembling her substantial collection of forty Italian short stories, Jhumpa Lahiri set herself the same objective but in reverse: to introduce Italian authors to American readers. Lahiri declares Vittorini was her ‘guiding light’, not only for the general design of the work but also ‘in writing the brief author biographies – intended as partial sketches and not definitive renderings – that preface each story’.

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In Israel’s recent election, Benjamin Netanyahu desperately defended his position as Israel’s prime minister, but perhaps also as a free man, because he may soon face trial for corruption charges. As Israelis learn more about his lavish life style, many yearn for the days of David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), whom they recall as an ascetic statesman of vision and integrity. Netanyahu is seen as the opposite of Ben-Gurion.

So mused Israeli historian and journalist Tom Segev, author of this important biography of Israel’s first prime minister, in Haaretz newspaper. But, he added, Netanyahu has in many ways followed in Ben-Gurion’s footsteps, especially in his view that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians can at best be managed, not solved.

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In 2016 John Kaye was dying. Once leader of the Greens in New South Wales, he had a final message for his party. ‘This isn’t and never has been about changing government … This is about changing what people expect from government.’ In our era, dogged by chronic distrust of parties and government, it might have served as a rallying cry for people to transform politics by demanding more of their representatives. But Kaye was a man of the left, and in the context of an impending election, as the Greens descended into vicious factional brawls over preselection for his seat, his words unleashed a storm of controversy over the direction of the party.

This is just one among many eruptions of internecine warfare over the purpose of the Greens chronicled in Paddy Manning’s comprehensive history. The survival of the party since 1992, despite the elaboration of a program, and despite its professed commitment to consensual democratic processes, has depended on its leaders: the iconic Bob Brown, then Christine Milne, and lately Richard Di Natale.

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Civilization: The Way We Live Now

Alison Stieven-Taylor
Monday, 16 September 2019

In the age of the image, photography being omnipresent, what can pictures tell us about ourselves as individuals and about the human race? What does an image of the constructed world reveal about our relationship to one another? Does our pursuit of tomorrow render the present expendable ...

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'Living in the Indigenous space' by Lynette Russell

Lynette Russell
Friday, 26 July 2019

Living, working, and being in the Indigenous space, there are times when it feels as though nothing changes. Indeed, on occasion, it can feel as though things are in fact regressing. When The Hon. Ken Wyatt AM, MP was announced as the new Minister for Indigenous Australians ...

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In the early eighteenth century, smallpox inoculations were introduced to England and promoted by the charismatic Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, one of the many scintillating characters in David Isaacs’s outstanding book Defeating the Ministers of Death ...

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